Why a positive Ofsted rating isn't always good news

New research has found that a good Ofsted rating can have a surprisingly negative impact on students. 

The researchers found that parents with children in schools that received a better than expected Ofsted report are much more likely to reduce help with homework and this can have a damaging impact on GCSE results. The ratings have the opposite effect on the children themselves, who increase the amount of time they spend studying after a good Ofsted rating, but the the dramatic drop in help from their parents appears to be very damaging.  

What did the research find? 

  • Parents typically reduce help with homework when perceived school quality increases. 
  • Students from schools who receive a positive Ofsted report early in the academic year perform significantly worse than those who receive the same information closer to exam time. This is despite the children spending more time on their school work. 
  • While parents' reaction to good news in pronounced, their reaction to bad news about school quality is less dramatic. If an Ofsted rating is lower than expected, parents do not respond by significantly increasing the help that they give their child at home. 
  • Providing information through Ofsted inspections is likely to reduce overall parental investment in their child's education, because parents in schools that receive good news react more strongly than parents in schools with bad news. 

How was Understanding Society used? 

The research was carried out by researchers from the Institute for Social and Economic Research, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the University of Sussex, University College London and the University of Bristol. They used information from Understanding Society, combined with information on Ofsted inspections and school performances at GCSE between 2009 and 2014. This allowed the team to compare attitudes and behaviours in parents and students and see how this changed according to the timings and results of the Ofsted inspection.

Professor Imran Rasul, from University College London and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, commented on the findings, "Our new research shows parent reactions to an Ofsted inspection are significant and meaningful. They withdraw support for their children when they are happy the school is doing well. This might explain why previous research has found it hard to pinpoint the benefits of attending high-performing schools. More thought should be given to how information on school quality is given to parents, and how to prevent this having an adverse impact on their children."

This research has appeared in the media: 

The Observer, Why a good Ofsted report can be bad for GCSE results

TES, GCSE grades 'drop' after successful Ofsted inspections 

The Times, Good Ofsted rating can mean parents become complacent

You can read the full briefing paper here